Pros: Laugh out loud humour, a witty script and a creative delivery.
Cons: The shifting audience perspective feels a little disjointed.
Performed in the unusual style of two 1950s BBC radio plays, An Innocent Man and Whodunnit form an amusing double-bill of mayhem, mystery and murder. During Act One, the members of Stack 10 Theatre Company portray a slightly hapless cast of radio performers hell bent on making it through their crime thriller, An Innocent Man. Act Two takes a similar approach, as the radio play cast give Whodunnit their best shot.
The ‘play within a play’ nature of this show takes a little getting used to. As an audience we are in the rare position of watching the ‘backstage’ view of a fictional performance. During the initial scenes it wasn’t immediately clear that the characters’ struggles were part of the script, and as a result I spent a few minutes thinking that forgotten lines and missed cues were genuine mistakes. After a while it became clear that these fumbles were all part of the characterisation but I felt as though this could have been emphasised a little more obviously through some of the earlier direction.
Overall, Ed Hartland’s direction should be commended throughout this piece. Using a simple set and a small selection of props, the actors’ movements within the physical space convey not only a huge range of narrative locations but also the BBC broadcasting studio itself. Each character also takes on a range of radio personas, often struggling to switch quickly between different voices to great comic effect. This type of chaotic performance brings with it the risk of becoming messy or difficult to follow but Hartland’s skilled direction ensures that the audience is never left confused.
As well as being very visually funny the play builds an informed, witty parody of radio dramas of the period. The sponsor adverts and product placements are particularly humorous, poking fun at 1950s views of things like gender roles and smoking. The cast do a fantastic job of delivering this style of comedy and had the audience whooping and laughing at several points during the show. Not only do the team deliver a complex script with multiple character changes, they also sing, harmonise radio jingles and produce all of the sound effects themselves. This on-stage pandemonium is clearly well rehearsed but also comes across as endearingly unpolished, which is an achievement in itself!
Stephanie Prior is the perfect femme fatale as Pamela in An Innocent Man, before joining Carla-Marie Metcalfe and Jamie Coleman in the roles of radio sponsors. Perhaps the most hilarious moment of the show however is the unexpected arrival of the completely ridiculous Blind Detective, brilliantly played by Elliot Thomas.
The Space provides an ideal setting for a play of this genre. The quirky auditorium features cabaret seating, which very much lends itself to the era of jazz music and ‘Smokies’ cigarettes that the play inhabits. This production experiments with the position of the audience, as the characters play to both the fictional radio listeners and the real theatregoers. Although this brought a nice dimension to the show at times it felt a little disjointed. There are moments when the characters seem so involved in the crime narrative that their reality as radio actors seems a little lost. At other times, they are very clearly portraying actors in a recording studio but this too becomes mixed with obvious references to their theatrical surroundings. For me, addressing multiple ‘realities’ in this way made the play feel a little undefined and I felt the action ran more smoothly when the actors had settled into just one perspective for a length of time.
Both An Innocent Man and Whodunnit are a relaxing, fun night out with a type of humour to suit all tastes. Combining music, nostalgia, comedy and great storytelling, this is a creative and entertaining take on a classic genre.
Writer and Director: Ed Hartland
Producers: Stephanie Prior and Caryl Jones
Booking Until: 19 July 2014
Box Office: 020 7515 7799